Think about an herb tea garden! Wouldn't it be nice to have a little herb area in the sun near the kitchen door where you could snip fragrant pieces of fresh green herbs for tea. This garden would be pretty, fragrant useful and alive about nine months of the year. You can even do this garden in a series of large pots for a deck or patio. It is fun to grow your own herbs to use for tea and you can dry extra at the end of the season to use during the winter. Choose a place and plan what herbs you will plant.
I love to pick a few fresh, pieces of whichever herb I want to use and place the sprigs in a teapot. Some folks like to bruise the leaves so the aromatic oils will more readily be released into the boiling water. With most of the following tea plants, you can just pick off a few leaves whenever you want to make tea. As you pick you will find that a healthy, well cared for plant will constantly grow more new leaves. Having a few of each kind is a good idea, as it will allow the plant to grow in between pickings.
Some herbs are known for their health value and are grown to use for upset stomachs, the onset of a cold or to help one sleep. I know that a tangy pot of lemon balm tea with a slice of lemon on a cold day will really help ward off a cold. Our large patch of lemon balm covers an area under two old holly trees. We pick and pick and pick from spring to late fall and also dry bunches for winter tea.
In fall herbs can be picked to dry. Just tie up 6 –10 inch stems and hang in a dry spot indoors. When they are crisp and dry place them in brown paper lunch bags and write name and date on bag. Store in a cabinet where it is dry so they will not mold. Then just add a sprig or two of the dry to your pot of tea. It is hard to tell one how much to use, this is matter of personal taste and varies. You will soon develop your own tastes and formula for herb tea.
The following list will discuss a few of the favorite herb teas
This sweet and also pretty herb is known as the relaxing herb. It is one of the ingredients in most "night time" teas. Roman chamomile is a low growing perennial and German is the self-seeding annual variety with more flowers to pick. They do need full sun but will grow well in most soils as long as it drains well. You can grow chamomile in containers on a balcony, but it doesn't do well indoors. Chamomile does well in my sandy soils in good of sun, but in order to grow all summer it needs plenty of water during the hottest parts of the summer. For tea, pick the golden flowers any time the white petals appear. Use fresh or place on paper towel or screen for a few days, store in paper bags or clean jars. Just be sure they are really dry before closing in a jar.
This plant has a licorice flavor and the square of the labiate family. The tall spikes of purple-blue flowers are really nice in any perennial garden and attract butterflies and honey bees. The plants are hardy and also reseed so you will have quite a few if you allow them to come back up. This plant reseeds but is not invasive. It prefers full sun and a rich soil, but here it grown in sand and in the shade. The plants are just not as lush as ones in good soil and sun. Both the leaves and flowers of this plant for delicious licorice-flavored tea.
People all over love this tea with its wonderful fresh, lemony scent. It is most often added to other teas to impart a lemon scent and flavor. Here in the Delaware Valley we have to either bring this one in or treat it as an annual. When I bring them indoors for the winter they most often lose their leaves in January, but I see that all are sending out new leaves from what looked like dead branches. They need full sun and make a wonderful patio plant in a very large pot.
Bee Balm (Monarda)
This herb makes a naturally citrus flavored sweet tea and is known as the Oswego tea plant (named after the first botanist who collected it). The colonial people learned of this plant from the natives soon use it. Legend tells us that it was the tea used after the local ‘Greenwich' N J tea party as well as after the Boston Tea Party as a form of rebellion. We often call this plant bergamot since it smells like the fruit from the Mediterranean plant of that name. But since a Spanish botanist named monarda in the late 1500’s found it, is correctly named Monarda. Attractive red, pink, or white flowers that look wonderful in the garden and attract both bees and hummingbirds are another plus for this hardy perennial. It enjoys fairly rich, moist soil that is slightly acidic in full sun to partial shade. You can use both the leaves and flowers for tea but if you leave the flowers behind the hummingbirds and bees will visit! It is best to use the young leaves as the older leaves may give a bitter aftertaste.
Orange mint has a pleasant citrus fragrance and flavor. One of the nicest things about this plant is that it isn't as invasive as most mints. If you're worried you can plant it in a container, but it grows much better in the ground. This mint likes partial to full sun, fairly rich soil, and lots of water. It usually grows about 2 feet tall, but can be harvested at any size for teas. It is also very pretty in the garden as it has deep green purple-tinged leaves and stems and spikes of lavender bloom. Butterflies love the nectar in the blooms
There are many varieties of mint each with it's distinct taste: spearmint, peppermint, apple mint or even chocolate mint. Mint will grow readily indoors in a very cool, sunny window in a large pot.
This is probably my favorite of all the tea herbs. It is easy to grow and readily reseeds and makes a very healthy tea with a distinct lemon aroma. Lemon balm likes somewhat dry soil and partial shade during the day. We grow it out back under holly trees where it is the best ground cover ever, keeping out weeds and yielding plenty of foliage for tea. This is truly an immune boosting tea and one that dispels colds when they are just beginning.
Colorful rose hips will make a citrus-tasting tea that is rich in vitamin C. Add to any tea for flavor and vitamins ! Most rose plants will create 'hips' but Rugosa roses produce the largest ones. The hips are actually seedpods that form at the base of the rose blooms. To make tea with rose hips slice them in half before steeping. Rugosa roses are hardy and cold tolerant and do not need spray which is important consideration for tea plants. These roses will grow just about anywhere in the sun.
Lavender is useful in any sunny garden and the butterflies like it too. Most Lavender will grow 2 or 3 feet tall in well-drained soil and direct sun. It is not often used for tea, but can be added to Earl Gray for a party tea. It does make a floral tasting tea that also blends well with other herbs (like chamomile).
This is a large airy looking plant that I plant mainly for the butterfly larvae. But since ancient times the seeds have been used for a stomach tea. People have even given it to babies with colic. The seeds can be dried on the plant and then shook into a paper bag for storage. When dried, the seeds have a very strong licorice flavor. The plant will go to seed at the end of summer or in fall seeds can dry right on the plant and be shook into a bag. This plant can grow up to 6 feet tall so it is useful along a fence or at the back of the herb garden.
There are 100’s more herbs to grow for tea. Take some time to study them this spring.
Lorraine Kiefer is the owner of Triple Oaks Nursery and has been a garden writer since 1972. Click here to email her.
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